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Extract from
Our Country

Churches and Chapels
A Hewitson

Web transcription ©2002 Hubmaker
For reference only - Reproduction by any means strictly prohibited


“There'll be a fight if you don't go to Hesketh Bank," said a prescient friend of ours, who fancied that we intended ignoring that benign and most sunny region. “Then we'll go and stop it," said we to him; and in due time we started for “Th' Bonk." In a carriage we went, and three daring yet philanthropic souls accompanied us - two part of the way, one all through our pilgrimage.

And that same pilgrimage was curiously pleasant. We passed gaily through Penwortham, with its wealth of foliage; gaily through Hutton - seeing no hope in the Anchor there, for the door was closed, and but little consolation in the ancient school farther on; like a shot we moved through the serene groves of Longton; in a style beautifully easy, we threaded the depths and heights of Walmer Bridge; and in a quarter of an hour afterwards we reached the royallest sign in Hoole - the Rose and Crown. Man and beast had refreshment here, and in a "light” time - they call everything short, or small, or little, "light" in this quarter - we prepared for resuming the journey. “Yo'll be able to get to Becconsa varra soon," said the lady of the hostelrie - a kindly, motherly spirit - "if yo cross down toward Douglas." "Shall we?" was our interrogation, and she said "Aye directly - if yo drive on, yo'll be theer in a few minutes - yo'll be at th' watterside directly." "But," said we, "where can we put the horse and conveyance, whilst we cross the river?" “That's what I've just been thinking about," said the good lady, and when she saw how her hypothesis had been explored she laughed cunningly, and made all of us roar. In order that the Church of Hesketh-with-Becconsall might be reached in due and decent time, it was, when the laughter had cleared off, decided to divide the party; the horse and conveyance could not be left by themselves at the side of the river Douglas; they must be driven round by Tarleton; we allowed, them to be so driven, and with a kindly, but topographically obtuse friend, slanted off through a number of fields to the right - expecting to be able to cross the Douglas immediately, and get to the Church at once. A complex journey, involving mystification in byepaths, sensations of lostness in ploughed fields, and quaint inquiries at one or two farm-houses, brought us at length to the banks of the Douglas, and after winding our way thereon for some distance, we caught sight of five, men on the opposite shore, at a sharp bend in the river. These we fancied were ferrymen; they were taking matters very pleasantly; three were lying at full length upon the ground, getting as much sunshine upon their backs as they possibly could, and two were leaping over one another. We held up a hand, and in a moment a little flat -bottomed boat with an honest looking, weather-beaten oarsman in it, was on its way to our side of the river. The stream to be crossed was not more than thirty yards wide, and on entering the boat we thus addressed the old salt in charge of it, "How far across is this particular part of the ocean?" "About two mile" said he. That was healthy, and in an instant we could see that the man had got fun - the finest thing in the world - in him. "Then" we said "have you many serious ship wrecks here?" And he thus answered, “A light at times." " How often'' we inquired, and he re­joined "Now and then - ah generally contrives ta hev wrecks when 'th booat's full uv wimmen." The broad English fun of the boatman was sunshine to us during the remainder of the day. In reasonable time we got across the Douglas, and having paid Charon, the ferryman, his fare, we disappeared up a narrow lane, and finding that we were close to what is called “Becconsa Chapel" (Hesketh-with-Becconsall Church), we halted, and in spite of the humour of a delicately green yokel, who wanted to drive into us the notion that "'th paason of that 'ere place 'cooms fro Longton," we assumed a serious attitude, and, whilst wandering around the church close by thought naturally of the history of the building in particular and the district in general. " Hesketh is the most westerly of the five parishes which have been separated from Croston; "it is a very old place; and it has long been associated with the Hesketh family. Sir William Heskayth, Knight, was lord of "Heskaithe and Beconsawe" in 1276. Between 1509 and 1689 Becconsall was owned by the De Becconsalls, who lived at Becconsall Hall. Hesketh, on the other hand, was held by the Heskeths of Rufford. The Molyneuxs afterwards became owners of Becconsall, and by marriage it eventually fell into the hands of the Heskeths. Upon a stone, now lying at the end of one of the buildings connected with Becconsall, Hall, there is the fol­lowing inscription:- “John and Lucy Molynevx bvilt this Hovse, Anno 1667. T. H" Sir T. G. Fermor-Hesketh. bart., M.P., is lord of the manor of Hesketh and Becconsall, and owns nearly all. the property in the district. People at a distance have an idea that Hesketh with Becconsall is a very barbaric and sterile part of the country, made up of sea sand and wild heathery land; but they are mistaken. The district is a fine one - beautiful for its scenery, and remarkably good in the fertility of its land.

There is some of the best land in England here, and, a considerable quantity of it has been reclaimed from the sea. The river Douglas, a navigable tributary of the Ribble, winds round the north-eastern side of Becconsall; and here, in 1834, the grandfather of Sir Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh reclaimed much land, previously washed over by the tidal flow of the Ribble. Subsequently Sir Thomas reclaimed a great tract of land below Hesketh Bank, the last quantity which was enclosed being equal to about 700 statute acres. The reclaimed land here as well as that in Becconsall has always been noted for its productiveness. For some time, at first, it required no tilling, the rich marine deposit in the soil operating quite as well as if not better than the best farm yard or artificial manure. Splendid crops are now grown upon the soil. The district of Hesketh-with-Becconsall is generally of an agricultural character: one portion of it stands upon low sloping ground, and the other upon a high commanding plateau, from which an exquisite view of the surrounding country can be obtained. Formerly, we are told, Hesketh was a place, in summer time, of con­siderable resort " for bathing and marine recreation, and the visitors were plentifully supplied with salmon and flounders taken near the mouth of the rivers." In old times there was a beacon not far from the junction of the Douglas with the Ribble; the place on which it was lighted was called “Beacon's Hill," and this, it is thought, may have given rise to the name Becconsall. Alms equiv­alent to "one carucate of land in Bekaneshou were once given to the hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, the grant having been made by Pagan de Villers, the first recorded feodary in the parish. There are some of the strongest horses and finest potatoes in the country in this locality; 'and the young men here are rare specimens of strong, untamed English flesh and blood; they have arms, and legs, and fists, and faces of the most Cyclopean type; you see none of the muling, mawking, sicklied-all-o'er look of townspeople, in them. They are brawny, muscular, healthy, and mean everything they do; are devoid of all superficialism - work, court, kiss, fight, drink, and sleep in downright earnest, and a day spent with them is a fine relief to the dawdling, simpering, sentimental monotony and over-reaching craft of town life. But we are forgetting the Church of Hes­keth-with-Becconsall. The building stands upon an eminence at the extreme eastern end of the parish, near the Douglas, and seems to occupy a most singularly out-of -the way site. It is quite removed from the centre of population, and many of those attending it are - taking into ac­count the distance they have to traverse - worthy of annual prizes for their patience and perseverance. The present Church was re-built and enlarged in 1765; the original one was built in the 16th century, and was used as a domestic chapel by the Becconsalls, of Becconsall, Hall, which adjoins. This may account for the peculiar position of the Church; the original in­tention, no doubt, being to make it convenient, not for the whole parish, but simply for the Becconsall family. There are no old gravestones in the yard except one, which has 'been so fixed in the ground that everybody entering the Church is compelled to tread upon it, and, of course, to deface its inscription. This stone is placed just in front of the door; the character of its lettering is old; but de­facement prevented us from making out the date of it with accuracy. On the northern side of the yard there is a slab, resting upon four limestone blocks, and it contains a rather solemnly amusing epitaph, beginning in this way

Four children I have left behind,
And to the Lord I have resigned, &c.

A very pretty and most extensive view is obtained from the churchyard. On the north-western side we noticed first the long level lands of Becconsall Marsh, reclaimed from the wash of many a tide, spread with young shooting corn and wheat, and rippling in the sunlight like a lake of emerald; beyond were long lines of creamy barren sand banks; then the Ribble flowing down to the sea coolly and calmly; in the distance the Naze Point, Freckleton, Kirkham, and the wide expanse of the Fylde; hills climbed up to the right; and still more to the right stood Preston - stately, cloudy, expansive; whilst to the south we had the winding defile of the Douglas and the fruitful fields of Tarleton. The church, architecturally, is very simple: it has brick sides, a whitewashed front, a plain roof, a simple bell turret at the west end, and is run round at the easigs with a'white wooden spout. The interior of the building is quiet, naked, and singularly rigid in style. The walls, the windows, the floor, and the roof are all primitive in construction. The chancel – a clean, singularly plain portion of the church – is separated from the body of the building by a wide smooth arch. There are 16 old fashioned, long, high, common pews in the church, and though nothing extra in design they are made pretty comfortable inside. Some have thick straw matting in them; others have easily formed seats. We got into one very cozy and old fashioned in style; the floor­ was thickly matted, and as we crossed it to the further side we felt as if we were walking over something akin to a bed and not across a pew floor. On the left side of the centre aisle there is an ornamentally -constructed stove; it has a pew entirely to itself, and seems well satisfied with it. The pulpit and reading desk are together, one above the other, on the south side, and they are very homely in look though ponderous and lofty in make. The church will hold about 150 persons. The congregation we saw consisted of 40 individuals - 6 men, 9 honest-faced matronly shaped women, 7 blooming young damsels, 10 lads, and 8 girls. The' service was devoid of all flourish and sentimentality; the singing was firm and clear in tone;.and the preaching was sound and practical. There may have been many ministers at this Church; but the names of only four are known - the Rev. Thomas Cooper, who was curate here in 1755, and died in 1783; the Rev. Thos. Whitehead, who, after being minister for 39 years, died in 1822; the Rev. Edward Elwood; and the Rev. Richard O'Brien, who became rector in Jan., 1864. Mr. O'Brien is a sedate, orthodox-fashioned, calmly-serious gentle­man. He has a mild, fixed, plaster of Paris look; has nothing either violent or dogmatic in his appearance; has modest whiskers, with a blush of ginger in them; is a pretty good reader, and a quiet earnest preacher; lives in a beautifully situated house, with numerous old. tree roots, dug out of neighbouring sands or mosses, in front of it; has an income equal to about £300 a year; is kindly and unostentatious; doesn't meddle with other people's affairs; and is liked for his quietness and kindly gentility. He is an M.A. of Dublin University, and prior to his appointment as rector of Hesketh was curate. of Wendy in Cambridgeshire, and of Coppenhall, in Cheshire. The patron of the living is Sir T. G. Fermor-Hesketh. There are dayand Sunday schools belonging to the church; the master being Mr. W. S. Llewenyn, a quick-sighted young gentleman, who discharges his duties with commendable efficiency. The attendance at the day school averages about 54, whilst on Sundays it is about 60.

Dissent is a prominent article at Hesketh Bank, and the Primitive Methodists rule the roast in this particular. They have been established at Hesketh nearly 50 years Originally they held their services in an old cart-house, near the Hesketh Arms Inn; in 1843 they ,erected a small chapel in Back-lane; in 1852 that chapel was enlarged; and they are now building upon its site a large and substantial school and chapel, which will involve an outlay of about £1,000. The building, which is ap­proaching completion, occupies a very prominent position, and can be seen on each side for a considerable distance. It also stands in a convenient quarter; is central, as the old chapel was, and this may, to some extent, account for the superior success of the denomination as compared with that of the church in Hesketh, the latter place being very remote and inconvenient. In religion, as in anything else, people are inclined to take that creed which comes first to hand, and can be easiest got at. The new chapel, opened since our visit, is a good one. During its erection the Primitive Methodists worshipped in a neighbouring barn belonging to Mr. William Cookson. We did not reach that barn without some trouble. For a mile along the bottom of Hesketh Bank we rambled, and then taking a right angle cut to the left, we reached what a friend accompanying us conceived to be Hesketh school. It was the tiniest, craziest, most shaken and patched up little concern of a building we ever saw; and “If this be the school," said we, "may the Lord have mercy on the scholars." “Oh, but it is," was the reply; but we found out that it was not; for on looking into the place we could see nothing but a screaming child in a cradle and four big pies in a window bottom. “Then the school's higher up," was the answer our laughter elicited, and so we tramped on till we met an old farmer, who undeceived our guide, and who, after taking us through a farm-yard and across a field, landed us close to the barn in which the Primitives were raising the steam of their piety. “They make awful noises,” said a rough countryman, Whom we interrogated in reference to the Primitives. "Do they?" "Aye," said he, “I Was in a field half a mile of tother Sunday, and we could hear 'em shouting, and a man who was with me said he wished to the Lord he could ram his shoe down 'th fellow's throoat as was scream­ing." "They surely don't make such a noise as that," we rejoined, and he replied "’Pon me soul they do; ax Raaf Whitehead; he heard 'em tother Sunday night over Hesketh Marsh, a mile off!" We felt quietened down after this, feeling that the evidence was accumulating too stiffly, and that if we went on some­body would be quoted who had heard the Primitives two or three miles away. There was a cluster of young men and lads near the entrance to the barn, some leaning against walls, others sitting upon lumps of wood, and several looking at a hedge with their hands in their pockets. We passed them, moved on some distance, then turned back, and after confronting a number of ploughs and 'harrows and a quantity of potatoes, walked through the big doors of the barn, and took a seat behind a threshing machine, amid a galaxy of young men and women, who turned out to be the singers. All that we can say about the barn was that it was just like a barn - contained hay, straw, agricultural implements, and kindred articles. The congregation, seated upon improvised forms running in various directions, was numerous and quiet, and during the whole service we heard very little shouting or gong-beating. A man with a solemnly-determined bilious face, sitting to our left, sighed and said "Aye " once or twice, and occasionally whilst the sermon was progressing he ex­pressed in audible terms his approval of it; there were also slight whimperings of joyfulness in other quarters; but be­yond these the service was conducted with much decorum and quiet earnestness. The singing was excellent ; the preacher,.who was perched besides a little table, upon a platform, in front of the hay mow, talked in a very dry dreary fashion. He could not get the congregation up to a boiling pitch at all - he made none of them shout, stirred none of them into a state of ecstacy. "He did not preach so well" said we to a Hesketh Bank man, after the service, and he answered, “Noa, he's preiched 'th sermon yo' heeard four or five times over, and he hasn't got it off yet." The average attendance at the service was, we were told, about 300, including children. At the service we attended there would be about 150 present, exclusive of scholars. The denomination, which is in a flourishing condition, and has done considerable good in Hesketh, numbers 70 members, and at its Sunday School there is an average attendance of about 180. We returned after our visit to the “Chapel" to the Hesketh Arms - a comfortable old hostelrie, kept by a genuine old host and an excellent hostess - Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead. We had acres of fun at their house -got capital refreshments also, and in the evening spent an hour amongst the blithe lads of Hesketh Bank, in the big kitchen. There were at least 20 in the place, and the bulk had come to see somebody we were very intimately acquainted with, and whom one or two called “’th chap fra Preston, as writes 'ith papper." “Whare is he ?" said a little, alcoholically-inspired, unshaven man, with a short pipe in his waistcoat, as he entered the kitchen. We pointed to a gentleman who had accompanied us, and the little man danced round him in the greatest ecstacy. “Yo’ll do it reet - eh ? - yo'll give us all a good picter – eh ?” said he, and on receiving an affirmative reply, he seized a glass full of ale, supped it off at one sweep, and then began singing like a lark. At length he suspected. “Yor’e him - eh ?" said he. We expressed, for the sake of the fun, a direct negative. “Well, then, are yo 'th chap as comes a coorting Roger ------'s daughter?" said he, and when we replied “of course," he went on singing; telling our friend occasionally, along with several others, what to put in “'th papper," and how to work up his picture of Hesketh Bank. All kinds of things we're detailed for description, and it was not until we heard one of the company fervidly shout out, “Don't forget to mention - how Bill ------ set that dog on fire, “ that we disappeared. Half-a-score of arms and hands were pushed through the kitchen window to bid us good bye as we got into the carriage at the front, and the last words we heard came from a roseate soul, who promised in a loud voice that if our friend would “do it reet” - give a good account of the place – he would send him “th’ best looad o' praties I’ Hesketh.”

More From 'Atticus' :
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